It’s been a long while since I’ve done a spot of baking. Oddly enough, this period of kitchen absenteeism has seen me eating more cakes and sweets than ever before, thanks to the local pâtisserie shop down the road. I’m pretty sure I have become their best customer since the birth of our baby girl; once a place where I would shop mainly for our daily bread, I now also add croissants, brioches and bircher muesli to the daily routine, sometimes a quiche or chicken salad for lunch, and always a couple of blocks of chocolate to savour around 10:00pm once both kidlets are tucked in.
Smoked salmon is, admittedly, not an everyday ingredient, but I do love to keep some in the fridge for a quick lunch with some lightly buttered white toast, thinly sliced onions, a scattering of salty capers and a good squeeze of lemon. But when I’m wanting to incorporate smoked salmon into a more substantial meal, this Potato, Smoked Salmon & Dill Tart is a lovely option.
One of my favourite snacks when I lived in Australia were cheese scrolls from the local bakery. In fact, as a child of parents who ran a busy Vietnamese bakery, I often lived for the moment when the cheese scrolls came fresh out of the oven. Even better when there were onions in the mixture. My parents also made pizza scrolls as a variation, but I had a soft spot for just the plain cheese version. So when I came across this recipe for Three Cheese Bread in Rachel Allen’s latest cookbook, Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen, I knew I had to make it soon.
As an Australian married to a Frenchman, could there be a more perfect cake to represent the union of our two cultures than the madelamington, a French madeleine dressed up as an Australian lamington? No, I didn’t come up with this name, but I am rather disappointed that I didn’t coin this term myself. In fact, as a frequent baker and consumer of madeleines and lamingtons, I wonder how the idea of marrying these two cakes had never occurred to me.
It was precisely this recipe in Rachel Allen’s new book, Cake, which prompted me to buy the book. Not that I really needed a recipe – I could have used my go-to madeleine recipe and the chocolate icing from my lamington recipe. But the idea of the madelamington itself was so cute that I was sold on the book.
Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Irish cook, Rachel Allen. So when her new cookbook, Cake, was recently released, I promptly ordered it online and eagerly awaited its arrival in my mailbox. I did secretly wonder how it would compare to her other baking handbook, simply called Bake, which I have used quite frequently in recent years. But as it is not unusual for one of her books to find its place on my kitchen counter on any given week, there was no need for me to hesitate when it came to this purchase.
Her new book is filled with beautiful photography and, more importantly, great-looking recipes. I thought I had more than enough baking books on my bookshelf (well, actually, I do!), but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of inspirational recipes in Cake. Some recipes appear to be tweaks on those found in her earlier books, but many of the recipes will be a refreshing find for readers.
On a recent trip to London, I was reminded of my fond affection for Devonshire Tea, essentially a scone served with jam and cream. In fact, my desire for a daily scone fix made me brave enough to venture into a café on my lonesome most afternoons, just so I could sit down to a proper cup of tea with a plate of warm scones. There is nothing more restorative if you have been on your feet all day, visiting museums and shopping on the High Street
One such lovely establishment serving scones (although not proper Devonshire Tea) was the Patisserie Valerie in Covent Garden, a branch of what seems to be a patisserie/café chain store in the UK, although each one I came across seemed quite charming and unique, not necessarily catering to the masses. I found them to be welcoming enough to enter and sit by myself, sipping a warming cup of coffee or tea with something sweet on the side while I attempted, with travel guide books and street maps spread out around me, to plan my next place of visit. Stay tuned for an upcoming, although brief, travel post on London …
I had a sudden inkling to make crumpets the other day, somewhat unusual because I was only ever a mild fan of these yeasted breads when I was a child. My memories of crumpets are of the shop-bought kind which were round, thick and spongy in texture. Once lightly toasted, a generous slather of butter was obligatory, as was a good dollop of runny honey or jam. As a child, perhaps the allure of crumpets was watching the butter and honey disappear into the many little holes (or, rather, air bubbles) on the surface, which would inevitably end up dribbling down your chin as you took a bite into the warm bread.
Perhaps it is because I’ve had more time to contemplate breakfast lately that crumpets came to mind, and coupled with my New Year’s resolution to bake more with yeast (which I haven’t ventured near since typing up those resolutions), that I committed myself to the task of making them at home.
But those who know me will know that I can’t just simply sit down to a mere bowl of soup for dinner. Maybe as a starter, but for a complete meal, I need something a bit more. Some bread on the side is a must, and this Rustic Bacon & Cheddar Bread is a quick and simple way to bulk up a meal.
I can’t say that I have always been a fan of carrot cake. Growing up, the idea of a cake with a vegetable component didn’t sound very appealing to me. And coupled with the fact that most carrot cakes I had tried were on the dry, dense and healthy-tasting side, I couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. But in recent years, fellow foodie friends have steered me onto the path to carrot cake heaven with their favourite recipes, and now I am a true believer.
I gladly present to you three tried-and-tested recipes …
I have long been a fan of Nigel Slater, his books having been instrumental in my initial forays into the kitchen, along with Nigella Lawson and, dare I say it, the Australian Women’s Weekly. One of my favourite cookbooks would have to be Appetite, a hefty book filled with amazingly delicious recipes but provided in a manner that encourages the cook to develop some intuition in the kitchen. Rather than call for, say, 100 g of tomatoes, Nigel Slater’s recipes would instead ask for 3-4 medium-sized tomatoes, not only making it a bit easier to shop but also allowing the cook some flexibility.
I have been distracted in recent years by cookbooks from other authors, but this year hopefully marks a revisit of some old favourites. I was only reminded of Nigel Slater recently when hubby and I were browsing in the bookshop and Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume 1 & 2 were being sold together in a limited edition boxed set. Having lusted after these books for some time but trying to sensibly refrain from hoarding too many cookbooks in one year, I couldn’t resist a boxed set. And upon realising that Volume 1 was all about vegetables, and Volume 2 was dedicated to fruit, hubby generously offered the books to me as a gift, on the condition that they supported his New Year’s resolutions to eat more vegetarian and healthy food. Of course, honey …
With pumpkins in season, I was instantly taken by Nigel’s recipe for pumpkin laksa in Tender Volume 1. As a lover of all noodle soups, from the robust and herbal hit of a Vietnamese Pho to the equally comforting but milder-flavoured chicken noodle soup of the western palate, and not to mention the 2-minute noodles (or pot noodles) of my student days, I can rarely turn down a recipe for comfort in a bowl.
I had an inkling to make waffles for breakfast this morning, and upon waking to see the snow falling heavily outside, thus meaning a day of welcome indoor activity, I set about humming in the kitchen. But faced with a slight over-supply of bacon in the fridge, it was time to turn my usual waffles sprinkled with icing sugar into something more savoury at breakfast.
In fact, this was the first recipe I tried from this book. I love marinated and grilled chicken and am always on the lookout for new recipes, though I think my mum makes the best version which I have tried endlessly to recreate and which comes close but, of course, it can’t quite compare. Like most Vietnamese mothers, mine works from taste memory rather than from written recipes, yet her dishes seem to sing each and every time. Sadly, I think I missed out on that gene and am trying to make up for it by learning from different recipes and lots of trial and error in the kitchen.
Risotto always makes for a nice, comforting meal during the week. Yes, it takes a bit of time and requires a bit of stove-side attention, but I find the constant stirring to be rather relaxing, especially after a busy day at work when the time spent doing something mindless and repetitive can be rather therapeutic.
But perhaps we all don’t have this luxury of time to quietly meditate over the stove, or – more likely – some of us just don’t have the darn patience to stir endlessly for 20 minutes or so.
I find it rather comical that I often look to non-Asian chefs for inspiration on Asian dishes. Take Bill Granger, for example. Most of his savoury recipes are Asian-influenced and, whilst they may not correspond exactly to what is served in Chinatown, they always taste fabulous. In fact, he has a way of scaling down and simplifying recipes so that the dish still reminds you of the traditional version, but it employs the trademark Aussie casualness which is often in stark contrast to the hectic energy in most Asian kitchens.
Rachel Allen is the same. I don’t think she has spent extensive periods in Asia like Bill Granger has, but her Asian-inspired recipes are the sort of dishes which I like to eat at home. This is one thing which I love about globalisation, the blurring of borders – it is totally acceptable to take the coriander, ginger and chillies from the Thai palate and apply them to a chicken for your Sunday roast. A meal which takes the best of both worlds can only be wonderful.
The past week has been rather stressful for me and I have been longing for some comfort food in the form of home-baked cookies. And for some reason, ginger snap biscuits were on my mind. I’m not sure why because I haven’t eaten ginger snap biscuits since … at least 5 years ago when I left Australia??
A quick flick through some of my cookbooks and I found a nice and simple recipe in Rachel Allen’s Bake; nice because it was spot on what I was looking for, and simple because I happened to have all of the ingredients at home and I didn’t even need to wait for the butter to soften.
I have to admit that I haven’t really been into waffles until quite recently. As a child growing up in Australia, my memories of waffles were of those pre-made, pre-packaged ones sold in the bakery section of the supermarket. Not very enticing.
As I grew older and acquired more stamps in my passport, I recall visiting stands in Paris where they would make waffles fresh to order, your eyes looking on hungrily and your mouths salivating as you stand and take in the irresistible scent of the waffles cooking. In winter, you are likely to find similar stands in other European cities, including in Zurich, although I don’t think waffles are a big hit in Zurich compared to their grilled sausage stands.
I would prefer to call this Poor Man’s Dinner but the truth is that I have countless meals which go by the same name! For me, a Poor Man’s Dinner is anything that is made from bits and pieces in the fridge and pantry, or which are made from really simple and cheap ingredients.
Last night’s dinner was a Potato, Carrot & Celery Soup, simply made by sautéeing 4 small potatoes, 2 small carrots and 3 celery stalks – all coarsely chopped – in some butter, and then adding about 1.5 litres of chicken stock, letting everything simmer away gently for about 30 minutes before blitzing the contents into a smooth soup. Hardly a fancy recipe but it sure is a good way to clean out the vegetable tray in the fridge!
I think it’s hard to improve on a simple roast chicken, but the moment I tried it Thomas Keller’s way, I think it will be hard to prepare a roast chicken any other way!
Earlier this year, my husband and I spent 4 amazing days in Las Vegas. As with any trip to a new city, I always research the food and restaurants in the area beforehand, planning most of our meals long before we even arrive. And who knew that Las Vegas would be such a foodie paradise??!! Vegas is known for being excessive and with restaurants owned by the likes of Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Nobu and Mario Batali (to name a few), why travel anywhere else when you can just go to Vegas?? 😉
Here is another fabulous recipe from Rachel Allen’s Home Cooking.
I made the American Buttermilk Pancakes more out of curiousity because I wanted to compare them with Nigella’s American Pancakes from Nigella Bites. Nigella’s recipe is what I use almost everytime because I love that they always turn out thick and fluffy.
Rachel Allen’s recipe turned out quite well. The pancakes rose a lot on cooking and they have a much more light and fluffy texture than Nigella’s; I think I would describe Nigella’s pancakes as more dense and fluffy (if that makes sense).
As much as I adore coconut macaroons, I have actually never made them before. I’ve been eyeing Nigella’s recipe in How to Be a Domestic Goddess for ages but I’ve never had cream of tartar to hand (it’s not available where I live). But when I saw how simple Rachel Allen’s recipe was, I was interested to try it, not least out of curiosity.